You must check out this extraordinary slideshow of cities and their racial composition based on the Census.

Red is White, blue is Black, green is Asian, orange is Hispanic, yellow is Other, and each dot is 25 residents.

All these graphics are publicly available on Flickr.

Here are a few I found especially interesting. Click on the images for larger views.

Chicago, of course:

New York City:

LA:

Atlanta:

You should also check out this report (pdf) on the persistence of residential segregation in US metropolises.

“In this report we look for clues about how the growing diversity is being managed at the level of neighborhoods. How diverse is the average person’s neighborhood becoming, and how are historic patterns of segregation changing? The Census Bureau has now released tract-level data from Census 2010 that allow us to identify these trends:

  • Declines in residential segregation between blacks and whites since 2000 continued at about the same pace as in the 1990s. Segregation peaked around 1960 or 1970. Between 1980 and 2000 it declined at a very slow pace, but there were reasons to expect a potential breakthrough since then. The new data show another decade of steady but slow decline.

  • Hispanics and Asians are considerably less segregated than African Americans, and their segregation levels have remained steady since 1980. In addition, since both these groups are growing, there is a tendency for their ethnic enclaves to become more homogeneous. As a result these groups live in more isolated settings now than they did in 2000, continuing a trend seen since 1980.

  • The average non-Hispanic white person continued to live in a neighborhood that is very different racially from those neighborhoods where the average black, Hispanic, and Asian live. The average white person in metropolitan American lives in a neighborhood that is 75% white. Despite a substantial shift of minorities from cities to suburbs, these groups have often not gained access to largely white neighborhoods. For example a typical African American lives in a neighborhood that is only 35% white (not much different from 1940) and as much as 45% black. Diversity is experienced very differently in the daily lives of whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.”

However, the persistence of racial homogeneity in the context of greater diversity also means this:

As the report notes,

“Stark contrasts are readily apparent between the typical experiences of whites versus that of each minority group. In 367 metropolitan areas across the U.S., the typical white lives in a neighborhood that is 75% white, 8% black, 11% Hispanic, and 5% Asian. This represents a notable change since 1980, when the average whites’ neighborhood was 88% white, but it is very different from the makeup of the metropolis as a whole.

The experience of minorities is very different. For example, the typical black lives in a neighborhood that is 45% black, 35% white, 15% Hispanic, and 4% Asian. The typical Hispanic lives in a neighborhood that is 46% Hispanic, 35% white, 11% black and 7% Asian. The typical Asian lives in a neighborhood that is 22% Asian, 49% white, 9% black, and 19% Hispanic.”

The persistence of these patterns of residential segregation should surprise no one. The creation of racial enclaves was by design, as was explained in the documentary The House I Live In, and simply explained here:

But also in this article by Ta-Nehisi Coates where he explains the depth and breadth of institutional discrimination as illustrated in the ghetto as public policy:

“But the most affecting aspect of the book is the demonstration of the ghetto not as a product of a violent music, super-predators, or declining respect for marriage, but of policy and power. In Chicago, the ghetto was intentional. Black people were pariahs whom no one wanted to live around. The FHA turned that prejudice into full-blown racism by refusing to insure loans taken out by people who live near blacks.

Contract-sellers reacted to this policy and “sold” homes to black people desperate for housing at four to five times its value. I say “sold” because the contract-seller kept the deed, while the “buyer” remained responsible for any repairs to the home. If the “buyer” missed one payment they could be evicted, and all of their equity would be kept by the contract-seller. This is not merely a matter of “Of.” Contract-sellers turned eviction into a racket and would structure contracts so that sudden expenses guaranteed eviction. Then the seller would fish for another black family desperate for housing, rinse and repeat. In Chicago during the early 60s, some 85 percent of African-Americans who purchased home did it on contract.

These were not broken families in need of a lecture on work ethic. These were black people playing by the rules. And for their troubles they were effectively declared outside the law and thus preyed upon.”

Go read the whole thing. It’s well worth it.

Where Americans live is often not a matter of choice but of public policy, based individually, but more importantly, institutionally on racial considerations. Individuals may have become less racist but the policies, practices and structures created by race-based institutional discrimination are hard to dismantle because they are often invisible, or interpreted, mistakenly, as reflections of individual choices.

By David Mayeda

As noted in my previous post, there are rare cases when mainstream media do a little sociological work to explain criminal behaviors in the news, albiet when the offenders are of high social status. But in most cases, the news simply reports crime, noting what parties were involved and how they were impacted. This leads readers to believe that crime is a manifestation of individualized behavior, and that is largely what we see in this story from The Guardian (a media source which I admit, often has excellent reporting).

The story, titled “Three teenagers sentenced for homeless man’s murder,” details a particularly brutal act of violence, where three boys have been adjudicated for killing a homeless individual. If one reads through the story, the information presented essentially (1) recounts how the murder took place, (2) describes the sentences levied upon the offenders, (3) notes two of the boys’ criminogenic family ties, and (4) offers information on the victim’s experience. Virtually no text is offered that might explain this violent act by way of sociological analysis, except however, a significant comment from the judge:

    The judge told the mother: “You have another son who is serving life for murder. There are not many parents who have that sort of personal agony to bear. But then again, not that many mothers would have shown themselves to be either so unwilling or unable to shoulder the responsibility of motherhood as you have.”

So if any explanation for this very heavy violence is presented at all, it falls upon the mother. This lack of broader explanations illustrates mainstream media’s typical approach to crime. Yet considering the severity of this crime and the offenders’ youth, one would think this would be a case when the media needs to look for broader explanations.

However, no speculative questions are offered which might tap into fathering (or lack thereof), socio-economic status, or the fact that the young offenders were all male. No doubt had the youthful offenders been girls, there would have been a major discussion on girls being out of control. But when three boys engage in extreme violence, broader cultural discourse around violent masculinity is completely dismissed.

In short there is no sociology whatsoever, no work presented by the media that would speak to wider, more complex causes underpinning the violence…just a quick jab attributing youthful violence to poor mothering. And finally, one must wonder, had these boys been of color and/or of immigrant background, would the media have highlighted those statuses as potential causes of the violence?

Photo via The Guardian.

By David Mayeda

On occasion, mainstream media do a little sociology when covering crime-based news. A few recent stories in the New Zealand Herald serve as good examples. First this story titled, “Cop drank and gambled away stolen drug cash” (20 April), reporting how a former drug squad detective “was sentenced to 80 hours of community work and ordered to pay reparation of $3467.50” after he was caught stealing money seized in a raid, as well as from an in-house collection.

Granted, this is not a heinous, violent crime; nor is it a white-collar crime tied to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. But look at the degree to which the offender is described, which lends to reader sympathy. To begin with, the story’s subtitle reads, “Stressed officer’s actions a cry for help, says lawyer.” Additionally, in the middle of the story a robust section is devoted that further contextualizes the detective’s alleged illegal actions:

    The court heard that before the thefts Langford had several “issues” including the death of his father, a relationship break up, and being diagnosed with cancer.

    “On top of that he felt tremendous work pressure which wore upon him,” lawyer Richard Earwaker told the court.

    “It’s one of those situations where you have a man who had an otherwise good career, had performed ably and well.

    “He acknowledged he had become somewhat bitter and twisted after spending years in the force. Disillusionment was the only causal factor. It was progressively building up.

    “There were a whole series of major personal and professional situations contributing to where he ended up and decisions he made. He is extremely remorseful and ashamed of where he is standing right now.”

    Langford had tried to speak to his bosses about being “unhappy” at work.

    “It doesn’t seem to have been recognised that he was in trouble. It seems that this is almost a cry for help,” Mr Earwaker said.

Here, we actually see a little bit of sociology, as the story’s author taps into a meso-level analysis, describing how personal health problems, familial tragedy, breakup with an intimate partner, and work-based concerns collectively impacted the detective in adverse ways. While the Herald is not necessarily excusing the detective’s actions, the paper is making a serious effort to explore multiple background reasons as to why the detective broke the law. And one might argue this presented backdrop increases the likelihood that readers will feel more compassion for the detective. Onto the next example…

This story (22 April), titled “Rugby player losing battle with demons” is about one of New Zealand’s male rugby stars who plays for the famed “All Blacks.” The athlete was recently charged with assault, tied to an alleged conflict with his partner; he has openly apologized for his actions: “To my partner and her family I just want to say that I’m sorry to hurt someone that you love and care so much for. To be in this situation, I know it’s hurting them and it’s definitely hurting me, so I apologise to them.”

This story has been granted extensive media attention, largely because the alleged offender is of celebrity status. Additionally the athlete was part of New Zealand’s 2012 “It’s Not Okay” campaign, which aims to prevent and reduce family violence, and he appears to be demonstrating a good deal of public remorse.

Furthermore, like the previous story, this one has led to the Herald doing a bit of sociological work, writing quite extensively how participation in rugby at the elite level too often contributes to serious mental health concerns. In fact the subtitle of this story reads, “Rugby stars predisposed to suffering mental health challenges because of anxiety, says players’ union boss.” A majority of this particular story also details the hardships that often accompany athletic participation for males:

    Little work has been done on how young players cope, but a players’ association survey of former players found many struggled with life after retirement. The survey of 123 former professional players found they suffered from:

        • Feelings of depression or despair (35 per cent).
        • High levels of anxiety and stress (30 per cent).
        • Alcohol or substance abuse (23 per cent).
        • Relationship issues (20 per cent).
        • Aggression issues (13 per cent).

    “We believe that athletes do have a higher propensity to have challenges in this [area] than normal people,” Mr Nichol told the Herald yesterday.

    “We do a lot physically for athletes but we don’t do enough mentally.”

    Over a five-year period up to 2011, 81 players sought professional help for off-field issues. While incidents such as Savea’s alleged assault of his partner hit the headlines, many others were averted through successful intervention, said Mr Nichol.

    “The reality is we are always going to have players who come into the professional rugby ranks who have challenges. We just need to get our heads around that and say ‘okay, how do we deal with it’? When we stack up against other sporting codes, we do a lot. We do pretty well, but we are the first to say we need to do better.”

Again, the Herald is not making excuses for family violence, but it is making a strong effort to explain how sport can harm athletes, which may contribute to subsequent deviance. The story surely could have gone further, tapping into broader masculinity issues, but at least we get a hint of sociology here. And again like the story with the detective, the Herald presents this story in a way that lends readers to feel compassion for the offender – he is young and has been thrust into a potentially harmful work-based environment.

So why in these two stories do we get a little bit of sociology, some broader social explanations to criminal offending? Why are these stories written in ways that help readers feel compassion for the alleged offenders? In both cases, the alleged offenders already had high social status. The detective worked for the police force and is male. Think about the multitude of offenders who have been arrested for theft. How many even have stories written about them at all? And if they do, the news typically only reports the crime’s basic details (e.g., who’s involved, what the crime is, and who is affected). The news almost never educates the public, explaining how family problems, romantic hardships, or toxic-working environments (let alone poverty) can influence individuals’ criminogenic behaviors. But in this case for an otherwise law-abiding detective, broader explanations are presented abundantly.

For the rugby star, it is worth noting that he is a male of color, of Samoan descent. Imagine then if a young Samoan male, but not an athletic celebrity, was arrested for assault of a domestic partner – would the news even report it? And if they did, even if the offender was publicly remorseful, would the news explore potential ties between work-based anxieties and the violent behavior? Probably not. Instead, the news would simply report the basic information provided by police, and that would end it. However, in the case of a rugby star who plays for a nationally revered team, mainstream media takes extra steps to tie sport’s detrimental influences on the player. So for these higher-status individuals, criminogenic behavior is not individualized. Instead the criminogenic behavior is tied to institutional hardship.

These individuals’ social statuses and cultural capital appear to have shaped how the media reported their alleged criminal behaviors: not only do readers get broader explanations for their actions, but readers are also led to feel offender sympathy.

Up next: When Mainstream Media Does No Sociology on Crime

Photos via the New Zealand Herald (here and here).

That much seems pretty obvious (click on the image for a larger view):

There seems to be a domino effect recently: New Zealand and Uruguay have recently passed gay marriage laws, France is on the verge of doing so (demonstrations from catholic fundamentalists and reactionary Petainists notwithstanding) and the US Supreme Court is set to review the Defense of Marriage Act. At this point, it is a matter of when rather than if. And it’s about time too. Now, if only the Global South, especially Africa and the Middle East could catch up.

By SocProf.

Talk about degradation ceremony:

“An unusual punishment has shocked many in Iran. On April 15, police paraded a convicted criminal through the northwestern city of Marivan dressed in traditional Kurdish women’s clothing. This has prompted protests in the streets, online, and even in Iran’s parliament.”

Note the whole parade aspect to this, to make sure that one misses what is happening.

The idea behind this is simple: to be a woman is a degraded status and therefore, to make a man dress like one is a humiliation. When it is conducted in public, it exposes the recipient of that punishment to ridicule. One would never imagine doing the opposite: dress a woman like for punishment, right? That would not make any sense. Humiliation only works one way, from dominant status to subordinate status. The reverse would be some sort of upgrade, which defeats the purpose of punishment and humiliation. There is no stigmatization in reverse because there is no equality in power.

Now, it may seem as something out of a theocracy, as Iran is, but let us all remember that western culture also contains similar elements of comparing boys to girls or men to women as a form of humiliation (“throwing like a girl”). We have all sorts of nasty names for boys and men who do not conform to patriarchal norms of toughness, athleticism, etc. Insulting someone’s manhood flows from the same idea that sexes are polar opposites, not equal, with no shades of grey in between.

See also here for an article in French on this topic.

By David Mayeda

For Emile Durkheim, anomie was a state of normlessness, a society where individuals’ connections with each other had become frayed. This happened during times of massive social change and could lead to heavier patterns of suicide. For Durkheim, the other critical aspect of anomie was that it existed when there was an absence in social regulations that would help to guide behaviours. Or put in more Durkheim-esque terms, anomie equates to normlessness in social regulations.

That is partly what we see in this clip from HBO’s awesome drama, The Wire (season 3). Here Major Colvin (a.k.a., “Bunny”, pictured below) has established a safe zone of sorts for mid-level drug dealers from a variety of gangs. This sector becomes called “Hamsterdam” after a youth misinterprets the area being compared to Amsterdam where drug use is largely decriminalized. There are very little regulations in “Hamsterdam,” as the drug dealers may freely sell their products while law enforcement turns a blind eye, as long as there is no overt physical violence.

In short, dealers may deal, and users may buy and use without many legally enforced regulations or forms of social control. It should also be noted that Durkheim felt crime was a normal part of society. But, when the level of crime passed a certain threshold, then crime would no longer be considered normal and instead would be an indicator of society being truly sick. But before we get to the clip, let’s also account for Robert Merton’s rendition of anomie.

For Merton, anomie happened when there was a loss of means, meaning society didn’t care about the pathways by which people gained wealth, as long as they got wealthy (see also here). Or put another way, getting wealthy was more important than the processes by which someone made/got money. Likewise in this socially constructed environment of “Hamsterdam,” the means by which drug dealers make money is out of control. The goal is to profit, and there are no social morals that would otherwise guide people on how to reach those goals appropriately. Hence, the dealers (as directed by their superiors in the drug crews) will sell drugs to whoever will buy, something that’s facilitated in “Hamsterdam.”

In “Hamsterdam,” we see a combination of normlessness regarding both regulations and means…it’s total anomie for both Durkheim and Merton. Consequently, the levels of crime, and retreatism are astronomical. Even a seasoned character like “Bubbles” in this scene is deeply disturbed as he walks through the community. Of course as Major Colvin would like to point out, by decriminalizing drugs in one sector of the community, the rest of the community is much improved. Gang violence has subsided substantially across the broader sectors of West Baltimore. Unfortunately, unlike Amsterdam, public health-based social services are completely lacking in “Hamsterdam,” and only come in too late as Colvin’s social experiment is about to get shut down.

Okay, now let’s check out “Hamsterdam”:

http://youtu.be/tpV18bqN16w

Take a look at this:

The racism in this is embedded in so many ways. First off, of course, there is the “jew down” phrase. This is not unique. There are other such expressions, such as “being gipped”, or “Indian giver”. My grandparents spent most of their lives in Algeria, when it was a French colony, and, as non-racist and pro-independence as they were, they did use the phrase “Arab work” to describe shoddy work, and if they wanted to describe a shapely backside, they used the expression to have a butt “like an Arab trunk”.

So, the charming fellow in the video is tapping into a long cultural history of denigrating minorities through casual language and phrases that imply dishonesty and carelessness, not the way moral, decent people – i.e. the dominant group – behave.

But look more closely at the video. As soon as he uses the racist phrase, you can see the guy in the upper-left corner starts to laugh. He’s in the know. And then, at the .45 mark, someone off-camera reminds Johnson of what he just said. Now listen to Johnson’s reaction to be called on it. And, of course, he kinda apologizes by doubling down. And everybody laughs.

This is what happens when one member of the in-groups blurts out in public what is usually limited to talk among in-group members, in private, out of sight. When that stuff inadvertently comes out in public, one guy smiles because he knows that’s the stuff they talk about in private and, oops, the old man blurts it out. Look at the way the guy in the upper-left corner laughs and swivels around in his chair, looking for other witnesses, wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

And the non-apology apology is accomplished as a big joke on pretending to paying a compliment that actually taps into the stereotype of the Jews and money (they’re good at it… we know they control the global economy but they can be good at small business as well!).

The finishing touch is the subtle and dismissive head shake, shrug, and smirk at the end, as if to say “what is the nonsense? Why do I have to apologize for this? Everybody knows it”.

And everybody laughs, because we’re among friends and we know this stuff to be true, except this time, someone said it in public with a mic. But they all know it’s true. And that is that shared set of beliefs, that they know is supposed to remain private and not said in public, that is the source of their laughter.

By SocProf.

This is the latest in cartoonist Kevin Moore‘s series of cranky sociologists for this blog: the man himself, C. Wright Mills, especially with regards to the power elite. It perfectly (and awesomely) illustrates Mills’ idea that “Prestige is the shadow of money and power.” Click on the image for a larger version.

Let me repost what I wrote about the power elite when I reviewed Stanley Aronowitz’s book.

It is in its fifth chapter that Stanley Aronowitz‘s Taking It Big – C. Wright Mills and The Making of Political Intellectuals deals with the power elite. The power elite seems an obvious concept and reality to many of us but maybe we forget how against-the-grain the idea was when Mills put it on the sociological table:

“The Power Elite is a description of the structure of power in American society that disagrees with most sociology and academic political science by denying that power is widely dispersed among a welter of interest groups. Mills argues that at the national level power is highly concentrated among large corporations, the military, and the highest political “directorate.”” (168).

… And the critical reception the idea got:

“In his reply to critics, published almost two years after the appearance of the book, Mills states that its contents should be understood as an “elaborated hypothesis but based on acknowledged fact. There is no other way to write now, as a social student, about such large topics.” Taken as a whole, reviewers who criticized Mills from the liberal center and from professional disciplinary standpoints were, with few exceptions, taken aback by the boldness of the thesis and the scope of the analysis. As Mills well understood, this was a period when “social students” had retreated from taking on large topics and were settling in to a regime of truth that confined itself to what were called “measurable” hypotheses. This will to scientism inevitably condemned social studies to the intellectual politics of the small scale, a place that Mills refused to go.” (169)

It is indeed a bit funny that now pretty much every introduction to sociology textbook starts with Mills (especially the sociological imagination, of course), but, from Aronowitz’s book, one gets the clear view that Mills was always the odd man out of American sociology in the era of Parsons / Merton dominance. And also, one should also keep in mind that there is a definite conservative bent to the “will to scientism” (and probably an implicit recognition of the subordinate status of sociology in the field of social sciences).

But mostly, the concept of the power elite is an obliteration of the then-dominant pluralistic thesis:

“By suggesting a hierarchical model of power, pluralism has a place in his paradigm, but only at the middle and local levels. Mills vehemently denies that national power is subject to the influence of interest groups. The main reason is that foreign policy has assumed an overwhelming importance in the constitution of national power, and few, if any, of these interest groups are even concerned with the issues of war, the attendant military ascendancy, or the economic position of key U.S. corporations in world affairs. In fact, as discussed earlier, Mills had discovered that organized labor, the most important of these interests after 1946, willingly fell in line with its government’s global economic and military policies. Apart from patriotism and profound anticommunist sentiments, workers gained from defense contracts, while the “labor aristocracy” of skilled workers benefited from U.S. economic global hegemony.” (170)

On that basis, Mills is very (philosophically) pragmatic in his conception of power:

“Mills is not making any claims about the nature of power, except to identify the men of power by their “position to make decisions having major consequences. They rule the big corporations. They run the machinery of the state and claim its prerogatives. They direct the military establishment. They occupy the strategic command posts of the social structure.” There is no attempt to define power in terms of “human nature” or invariant laws.” (171)

And Aronowitz makes clear the place of The Power Elite in the larger project by Mills of defining power in the social structure as a way of identifying potential agents of change (even if this ends up with pessimistic gloom). There is truly a trilogy of social structure / power and /change that runs through all three major works:

“Almost all of Mills’s writing had a political intent. As we have seen, beyond exploring the social and political dimensions of their subjects, The New Men of Power and White Collar were steps in Mills’s project of finding and evaluating potential agents of social change. In this respect, The Power Elite, the third volume of his trilogy on social structure, continues the project, but with some fundamental differences. The giant financial corporations, the political directorate, and the military are the real decision makers of society and generally understand themselves as powerful on the national stage. A decade after he began work on labor leaders, Mills finds them “integrated” into the dominant institutional orders rather than as independent social actors leading a potential army of regime changers. Thus, labor leaders and their organizations have become “dependent variables” of the three major institutional orders of power. “The United States now has no labor leaders who carry any weight of consequence in decisions of importance to the political outsiders now in charge of the visible government.” Like portions of the fading “old” middle class (mainly but not exclusively farmers), the unions, once insurgent, had settled after the war for places in what Mills terms the “middle levels” of power. As for the various strata of white-collar employees of the new middle class, Mills concludes that, far from forming a new pole of economic and political power, they constitute a primary base for the emerging mass society: slaves of consumerism, fragmented by occupational hierarchies and differential credentials, alienated from themselves as much as their work, and even more powerless than unions.” (172)

Here, the influence of the Frankfurt School is pretty obvious. In addition, the middle level of the power fulfills an ideological and legitimizing function more than an actual active one. This is indeed still very much the case today:

“By “middle level of power,” Mills connotes the Congress, which generally responds to the welter of interest groups—farmers, unions, educational interests, consumer groups, veterans, and so forth—seeking benefits or redress of their grievances from the federal government. In an age when executive authorities have all but monopolized the crucial decisions, mainly those that have to do with war and the direction of the national economy, Congress is the main site of the middle level of national power. It is called upon to ratify decisions—and preemptive actions—taken by the political directorate, in close consultation with the military and the leading corporate capitalist interests. But even the leaders of Congress, who are legally empowered—and obliged—to review and revise executive decisions, are often kept in the dark about policies and initiatives taken unilaterally by government agencies, especially intelligence services and the military.” (172)

There is also a propagandistic dimension to this (and while this is not mentioned in the book, it is clear it is the main function of the media systems):

“The elevation of the very rich and corporate executives to celebrity status alongside the usual glitterati of entertainers and politicians was for Mills a marker of the degree to which American civilization has been given over almost entirely to money and power.” (176)

I would argue that celebrity status is now granted not just to corporate superstars like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates but also to higher ranking members of the military establishment, often described as intellectual and physical Übermenschen. Think about the media fawning over the intellectual prowess of David Petraeus (before his downfall) or the fact that Stanley McCrystal ate only once a day (once a day!!). In previous decades, the same was granted to Colin Powell.

Interestingly, elevation to celebrity status is only granted to two out of three types of actors of the power elite: corporate and military, but not political actors. These always suffer from a legitimation crisis even though they might receive celebrity status while campaigning as Barack Obama did (I would argue that Obama’s elite function is to neutralize significant rising systemic opposition in the context of economic collapse where there might be a political opening for truly alternative movements, while pursuing neoliberal policies with liberal support despite massive legitimation crisis). This is a marker, I think, of their subservient status to corporate and military elites, often seen as free from criticism (unless they defraud other celebrities, like Bernie Madoff did).

“Today, many members of the U.S. Senate are certified millionaires, and a few major public officials are, like Bloomberg, billionaires. Following Mills’s schema, their fortunes derive either from inheritance or from their positions as corporate investors and executives. In either case, their direct entrance into political office signifies the merger of powerful institutional orders. Along with the rise of the tycoon-politician, there was also the advent of the soldier-politician.” (177)

Think again about Colin Powell and David Petraeus (and to a lesser extent, Wesley Clark). And obviously, corporate celebrities do not need to actually bother to run for office (and win) to influence public policy. They can create influential foundations to push their agenda without any mechanisms of accountability or legitimacy to do so (see: Bill and Melinda Gates, and the other wealthy members of the elite who write them big checks, like Warren Buffett).

This also reminds me of this infographic on the rise of the Goldman Sach’s men as masters of the Eurozone:

“The top of the economic order is indeed dominated by the corporate rich, which includes property owners and high managers. Together they make the decisions that rule much of the U.S. economy and are participants in “broader economic and political interests” that go beyond those of a single firm or managerial stratum. So the concept of “elite” includes but does not repudiate class; it redefines it.” (179)

I would argue that it not only redefines class but it integrates gender and race as well.

“Most professional politicians and the institutions they control have been relegated to the middle level of power. So, perhaps with the exception of the president of the United States and some key members of his cabinet who interact with the military and economic orders, the political directorate appears not to be distinct from the military or the large corporate elites.” (179-180)

As neatly illustrated by this other infographic (click on it for ginormous view):

So, what does this leave us with?

“As for the individual voter—the ultimate ideal sovereign of democratic societies—under conditions where the active public is all but dissolved, she is far removed from centers of decision, even though required to confer consent on those occupying decisive positions of national power. And even if Congress remains, at least constitutionally, the necessary institution of consent of the broad policies of the executive, it has lost its role as the main source of initiative and decision, especially at a time when the global rather than national politics is the main center.” (180)

Now, I am sure one could argue that this is not true and just look at what the evil Republicans are doing in Congress right now, obstructing presidential initiatives, etc. However, especially in these days of “fiscal cliff”, we all know this is political theater, right? This a manufactured crisis designed to push through further austerity, and provided media ideological cover.

And for Mills, intellectuals and academics are not blameless (even though he had some hope for them as agents of change… we all know better now, don’t we?):

“Beyond ideology, there are practical motives for the power elite to try to win the loyalty of intellectuals. Technology has become the bread and butter of business as much as war. Humanists—those trained in literature, philosophy, and history—have, in addition to scientists and engineers, been among the pioneers of new technologies associated with communications such as cybernetics and other electronic innovations. We are familiar with the phrase “knowledge is power,” but Mills was skeptical of the assertion that the bearers of knowledge were fated to occupy high positions in the power arrangements of U.S. society. Instead, he argued that even as industry, the military, and the state increasingly relied on expertise, especially those who possessed scientific and technological knowledge, the power elite was in a position to buy knowledge and employ those who possessed it, thereby placing intellectuals and experts in a subordinate position. Moreover, the growing importance of information technology by the 1950s provided major incentives to giant corporations to engage actively in education and increase their role and control of scholars and intellectuals.” (182)

And, of course, any elite, as Bourdieu taught us, must have mechanisms guaranteeing its reproduction:

“But there is another set of motives for the emergence of what Martin Kenney, following the suggestions of Mills and Thorstein Veblen, termed “the university/industrial complex.” The elite is interested in guaranteeing its own continuity and survival. Its formation, in addition to inherited wealth, relies heavily on a select group of elite prep schools, Ivy League universities, and other select institutions, such as Stanford. Mills notes that becoming a Harvard, Yale, or Princeton graduate is taken by corporate executives as a sign of candidature for entrance into the elite just as the high military officer corps is recruited, overwhelmingly, from the three main military academies: West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy. We might add that of the many professional schools that train business executives, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, the Wharton School of Pennsylvania, and Stanford also occupy special positions. Additionally, the law programs of these institutions confer elite status to its students. So it is not only the ties of practical technological alliances that bind some universities to the power elite; it is also what Pierre Bourdieu was later to term the acquisition of various forms of intellectual and social “capital,” whose components go beyond the curriculum. The Harvard or Yale undergraduate and professional student typically acquires a set of values, attitudes, and orientations that prepares him or her for being considered potential members of the power elite.” (182-183)

Add habitus to social capital as well.

“The fundamental condition for preventing the rise of a highly centralized power elite—and the concomitant submergence of the institutions of popular will—is for Mills, as for Dewey, democracy, which entails rough political equality for individuals and which is not necessarily fulfilled by the practice of voting or by representative institutions such as legislatures. As we have seen, these representative institutions retain their limited viability at a level below national power, but given the position of the main elites atop a world in which wars—actual and potential—and the global economy dominate politics, only an alert, critical, and active public can hope to thwart the further erosion of democratic participation.” (184)

I would also add that local politics is just as problematic as the national level. One need only look at the nonsense that comes out of state legislatures and school boards to realize that subsidiarity is not always best.

“Mills assures us that America is not fully a mass society nor was it ever mainly a community of publics. But he is plainly disturbed to discover that a highly effective media of mass communication (later he is to term these “the cultural apparatus”), consumerism, the decline of voluntary associations that once afforded people the chance to articulate their concerns and views, and the segregation and isolation of large chunks of the population have combined to vitiate the chance that an “articulate public” can challenge the power elite. Rejecting a connotation of conspiracy, the institutional trends that together contribute to making the public a “phantom” are a consequence of drift rather than motive. Equally important is Mills’s analysis of the demise of the old middle class as an independent social and political force—the historical public in American life—and the failure of the new middle class to fill that space, which prepared the ground for the massification process now in full swing.” (185-186)

Heck, that is a question to which Brad Delong still can’t find an answer. The system is delegitimized thanks to the economic collapse triggered by elite behavior but, at the same time that cultural battles are going the liberal way (gay marriage), the cultural underpinnings of the world system are still solidly in place through media concentration and successful propagation of the neoliberal and individualistic ideologies (what Bauman calls “the liquid society”).

And then, there is this (a perfect illustration, in my view):

“It was more sophisticated than we had imagined: new documents show that the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves –was coordinated with the big banks themselves.”

How can one not get cranky in the face of a triumphant power elite?

By SocProf.

A few weeks back, Todd posted about bystander apathy and social media with regard to the Steubenville case. In that post, he argued that social media did not make as much difference as one might think: after all, social media did not stop the crime, and it took months for the rapists to be convicted:

“That it took weeks (months, really) for this crime to come to the attention of authorities, while dozens of  people (perhaps more) had videos and pictures of the night in question, represents an astonishing failure on behalf of technology and the cyber-utopian’s vision of a social-media connected world.”

Well, CCTV did not help either in this tragic case in India (see also here):

“Footage showing hundreds of vehicles passing a father pleading for help beside the bodies of his wife and eight-month-old baby have prompted outrage and shock in India.

Images show Kanhaiyalal Raigher holding his five-year-old son by the hand, attempting in vain to flag down passing traffic for 10 minutes.

The family were riding together on a motorbike through a tunnel in the north-western city of Jaipur on Sunday afternoon when the accident occurred at around 2.30pm.”

By SocProf.

That is what the world spends on military for 2012 (a slight 0.5% decrease):

And as we can see, the US accounts for a little under half of that total amount, far above any other country in the world, including China (about 10%).

This makes pretty clear that, out of Michael Mann’s typology of power, military power is the only real one left to the US. So, we should not expect significant reductions in military spending even though there were some under the Obama administration.

By SocProf.

It was a nice coincidence that “NO” finally came out in my neck of the woods soon after the death of Margaret Thatcher, considering how chummy she was with Augusto Pinochet. The plot of the film revolves around the 1988 referendum in Chile, where Chileans had to decide whether Pinochet should remain in power (vote ‘Si”) or go and let the country become a democracy (vote “no”).

It was international pressure that convinced Pinochet to agree to the referendum. And so, weeks before the vote, both the “yes” and “no” sides are granted 15 minutes of TV time to make their case. The Pinochet government know that they will win no matter what. The opposition thinks the referendum is a sham and that the vote will be rigged, so, they just want to use the TV time to raise awareness on the atrocities committed by the regime.

But the opposition still needs to put together 15 minutes of daily television programming in the hopes of driving up the voter turnout, considering the high level of expected absenteeism and learned helplessness. So, they turn to René Saavedra (played by the always excellent Gael Garcia Bernal), an advertising and marketing creative type, to help them with that. René Saavedra seems to be wealthy enough to enjoy material comforts. But there are hints that his father was sent into exile and therefore that he had spent years abroad. At the same time, in addition to the nice house, sports car, and toy trains, Saavedra has a son from an ex-wife who seems to get arrested a lot for protesting the regime. She seems to be his reminder to not be a total sellout.

At first reluctantly, then more enthusiastically, Saavedra becomes involved with the no campaign. This is where we see the first class of generations, when Saavedra meets with the opposition party leaders to discuss the TV materials. These leaders want stern reminders of the brutality of the Pinochet regime. After all, most have them have been, at one time or another, been arrested, tortured, etc. They think they have earned the right to have their stories front and center now there is a channel of expression. Saavedra suggests that focusing on the nastiness of the regime will only make people fear more powerless and afraid to vote. He gets them to agree (with some reluctance) to a more positive campaign, with much US pop culture references, catchy jingles, and a happiness-centered campaign. A big part of the film is dedicated to the (often humorous) production of the TV segments.

At the same time, the regime does not sit on its hands. As soon as the first spot airs, they realize they were not prepared for this and their ads, focusing on economic “success”, look stake by comparison. So, they decide to do what this regime does best: intimidation. Leaders of the no campaign receive threats, are followed by mysterious cars at night. Their tapes get stolen. The government tries to censor them. Heck, they even pull out the big guns by inviting Pope John Paul II to come for a visit. But nothing seems to work, so, the leader of the yes campaign (who happens to be the owner the ad agency Saavedra works for) decides to imitate the materials of the no campaign, making fun of their ads and, of course, appealing to the fear of communism is the no campaign prevails. At the same time, there is talk, among regime members, of payback against the opposition once the referendum is over and won, and international attention goes away.

During these parts of the film, all the participants get a reminder of what it means to live under a repressive regime. That reminder is especially needed by Saavedra who has lived abroad and gets shaken by the first threats he gets, to the point of letting his son’s nanny – an older woman – go scold the government agents who just vandalized his house, while he stays safely on the porch. As he realizes the nature of the regime, his commitment to the no campaign deepens.

I won’t spoil the ending but there is a little bit of suspense when the vote finally gets underway and everybody expects the yes to win because everyone expects the government to cheat. So, the opposition then has to decide where they should go from there.

This was a great film. The director gave it an 80s look by using Instagram filters so that things seems a touch out of focus, with RGB bleeding on the side, just like in the “old” movies before VCR tapes. This gives the film an “époque” look (that and Saavedra’s favorite mode of transportation: his skateboard) without 80s nostalgia (actually, the soundtrack includes more classical music, such as Sibelius’s Sad Waltz than 80s music). The movie weaves pretty well the macro context with the micro aspects of Saavedra’s personal life (biography and history, remember?).

Highly recommended.

By David Mayeda

In December 2012, The Lancet published an interesting article titled, “Healthy life expectancy for 187 countries, 1990—2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden Disease Study 2010” (to see full article, free registration is required). Using data from 2010, the authors’ analyses of studies illustrate a variety of health indicators across 187 countries. In particular the authors address the construct of “healthy life expectancy,” which speaks to the average number of years an individual within a certain country can expect to live from a certain life stage (e.g., from birth) in good health. By good health, the authors mean absence of disability, not acquiring a major disease, and I would presume a variety of other indicators (e.g., free of heavy violence and injuries).

The results, while perhaps predictable, are a telling illustration of global stratification. See visual, below (top image, labelled “A” represents male averages, and image below, labelled “B” represents female averages):

Pretty clear, countries across much of western Europe, Canada, Singapore, and New Zealand have the highest healthy life expectancies — their citizenries expecting to live relatively healthy lives up until their late 60s for males and early 70s for females. And then in Japan, males and females both can expect to live healthy into their early 70s. Of course there would be stratified patterns of inequality within those countries, but on average, their citizens’ healthy life expectancies are very high from a comparative global standpoint. In contrast, across much of Africa, in Afghanistan, and Papua New Guinea, males and females can expect to stay healthy only up to about their 40s or early 50s.

The authors also highlight Haiti, comparing it with Japan as the two countries with the greatest disparities: “Across countries, male healthy life expectancy at birth in 2010 ranged from 27·8 years (17·2—36·5) in Haiti to 70·6 (68·6—72·2) in Japan. Female healthy life expectancy at birth in 2010 ranged from 37·1 years (26·8—43·8) in Haiti to 75·5 (73·3—77·3) in Japan,” also noting the significance that the catastrophic earthquake had on Haiti in 2010. Japan of course also experiences natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunamis. However countries like Haiti are much less equipped to cope with earthquakes due to a lack of infrastructure and technology, ultimately tied to poverty, which many critical sociologists would say are tied further to colonial and neo-colonial relationships.

And then there are life expectancy rates as a whole. This a pretty busy table, including life expectancies and healthy life expectancies, for males and females, years 1990 and 2010 across all 187 countries. But the information is extremely useful in demonstrating how social inequalities across the globe result in peoples’ differing lived experiences along clear patterns.

So while we’ve seen both life expectancies and healthy life expectancies rise for males and females in most (if not all) countries from 1990 to 2010, the global disparities are still massive.

The disparities also speak to the concept of “slow violence” that I first saw here, and is further explained by Jacklyn Cock here:

“much destruction of human potential takes the form of a ‘slow violence’ that extends over time. It is insidious, undramatic and relatively invisible. By slow violence I mean what Rob Nixon calls ‘the long dyings,’ a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all. Both environmental pollution and malnutrition are forms of this slow violence. Both instances are relatively invisible and involve serious damage which develops slowly over time.”

So we don’t think of these colossal disparities as examples of global violence. Instead we see them as unfortunate manifestations of poverty, perhaps reflecting a lack of leadership within the countries on the lower end of our globally stratified world. But really, mass social disparities are a form of violence in and of themselves because the less resources one has, the less they will be able to cope with things when crises emerge, whether the crisis be losing a job, having one’s house broken into, being in a car accident, or coping with a tsunami.

Furthermore, we know that when one lives in a community with higher levels of deprivation, certain crises are more common — physical health concerns, crime, educational concerns, un/under-employment. So the contributions to slow violence add up and have cumulative effects on individuals within those communities.

What I found additionally helpful about Jacklyn Cock’s article was how she spoke of sociologists’ social responsibility to the lived experiences of those coping with slow violence and heavier levels of overt violence/deprivation:

“Sociologists must be willing to extend their experiences into the lives of those they research. They must be willing to spend time in homes, mines, and factories, for extended periods of time. It is from this vantage point, from below, that social processes can be exposed and rigorously analyzed. Similarly, “organic public sociology’ ‘makes visible the invisible’ and works in close connection with a ‘visible, thick, active and often counter public.’ This involves emphasizing collective work and rejecting the call of C. Wright Mills ‘to stand for the primacy of the individual scholar.’ Instead, in this highly individualized neoliberal moment, sociologists have to stand in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed.”

Blogging and publishing in scholarly journals are hopefully helpful, but they sure aren’t adequate. Gotta get outa that ivory tower, cause confining oneself to academic circles is merely another pathway to reproducing inequality.